*This was originally published on ModelUN.news on December 21, 2017
-Matthew Mancini (’18)
The European Commission (EC), the executive body of the European Union (EU), announced Wednesday that they will begin the process of implementing Article 7, or the “nuclear option” in the EU, against the Polish government because of Poland’s “serious breach” of EU values. If the EU initiates Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty, or the treaty of the EU, then the voting rights of Poland may be suspended.
The procedure has to be accepted by a majority of four-fifths of EU members, or 22 members, in order to strip Warsaw of their voting rights. Nonetheless, the vote does not determine whether Poland will face sanctions by EU members as that process requires a unanimous vote. Hungary’s right wing government and their Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, have declared that they will never support such sanctions.
The EC has reverted to these measure because “within a period of two years a significant number of laws have been adopted – 13 in total – which put in serious risk the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers,” the vice-president of the EC, Frans Timmermans, told reporters in Brussels. The Polish President Andrzej Duda signed into law two new bills that would reform the judiciary. The new laws will affect the justice system of Poland because justices will be appointed by the Polish government as well as reducing the retirement age for judges.
Referring back to the new laws set in place, the judges will be nominated by the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS). However, the EC is concerned that the right wing populist party, or the Law and Justice Party (PiS), will appoint justices that will favor their policies. The PiS won an outright majority in 2015 which was the first time in Poland since the nation transitioned from Communism to Capitalism in the 1990s. The EC claims that with these new judiciary laws the Polish government “can systematically politically interfere with the composition, powers, the administration and the functioning” of the judiciary, according to Timmermans.
Despite EC claims that the new laws are unfair to the individual rights of Polish citizens, 81% of Poles agree that the court system need to be reformed. The new Polish Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, stated on Twitter that “current judiciary reform is deeply needed” due to the inefficient and corrupt judicial system of the communist past. The Polish judges have been accused of being elitist and out of touch with the demands of Polish citizens.
The Polish Foreign Minister, Witold Waszczykowski, supported the decision on Wednesday stating that Poland was “importing [legal] solutions that already exist in many EU member states.”